As social distancing and the temporary closure of area businesses become the norm throughout Grayson County, many of us are spending more time in our home kitchens serving up home-cooked meals instead of sliding into a restaurant booth and having someone else do the cooking.

With limitations on dine-in service in Texas restaurants and concerns over following social distancing recommendations to help lower the spread of the virus, restaurants are adjusting how they operate in order to continue serving customers who want to limit their time and interaction in public spaces. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic many restaurants are expanding or continuing to offer ordering options such as to-go orders, curbside pickups and deliveries in efforts to stay open and provide customers with their favorite dishes.

With safety being a chief concern, many may be wondering if takeout or food delivery is a safe choice for their next lunch or dinner or if home-cooking their meals themselves is a less risky option, both personally and for those preparing and/or delivering their food.

How safe is it to order takeout?

According to current guidance from the Food and Drug Administration, “there is no evidence to suggest that food produced in the United States can transmit COVID-19.”

NPR reported that infectious disease and food safety experts base their determination on the safety of takeout food on decades-worth of research on other coronaviruses. In their article, NPR spoke to Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of medicine in the department of infectious diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, who stated “while COVID-19 is new to us, coronaviruses are not, and with all the studies done on these viruses, there has never been any information to implicate food-borne transmission.”

Schaffner also noted that the virus is primarily risky to humans when it attaches to surfaces in our respiratory tract, not when we accidentally ingest it, stating that “the virus seems to be latching onto cells in the upper reaches of the nose, a place food doesn’t enter. Virus that found its way into your gastrointestinal tract would be killed by the acid in your stomach.”

Safety first

When ordering out, it’s important to take a number of precautions in order to protect yourself from potentially harmful to-go packaging/food containers and close social interaction involved in the pick-up process.

The Washington Post advises that if you do bring outside meals into your home, to remove food from the original to-go bags/packaging/containers, put them on clean dishware and use your own utensils. As an extra precaution, you can also use gloves to open the packaging/containers. Be sure to dispose of or recycle the packaging/containers, accordingly, and wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and hot water (or a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol) after disposal/before eating.

“Packages will be coming from a number of hands, and you might not know the symptom status of everyone who touched it along the way,” says Jodie Dionne-Odom, M.D., assistant professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Division of Infectious Diseases, via UAB’s website. “Wash your hands after opening and handling the package. That will kill the germs.”

To minimize the risk to households frequently utilizing curbside pickup services, Dionne-Odom also recommends designating the same person to pick up the order each time.

“Ideally, this person would not be symptomatic, be under the age of 60 and have no chronic medical conditions,” she said. “It makes it simplest for them to have a procedure for each time they come and go — washing their hands carefully every time they enter and exit the home.”

If a “contactless” option is available for your order, take advantage of it. If not, keep at least six feet away from both employees and other customers. If you do opt to order takeout, keep surface sanitization and social distancing in mind, as well as these tips via NPR:

— Create a safer food environment by cleaning any surfaces your food may touch; additionally, wipe down the counters and other surfaces where the food was unpacked

— Pay in advance (either online or over the phone) to minimize person-to-person interaction with your delivery driver or with restaurant staff

— To reduce interaction when ordering via a delivery service, request that your delivery driver leave the food at your doorstep and retrieve it when they are at least six feet away